Third Sunday after Pentecost
1 Samuel 8:4-11, (12-15), 16-20, (11:14-15); Psalm 138;
2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1; Mark 3:20-35
It is hard for us to fully appreciate what Jesus was dealing with in his own day and how he was trying to proclaim God’s love in the midst of His particular challenges. Palestine was an occupied country, crushed by taxes from the Romans and Herod. The average person lived in fear of violence from a Roman Empire that maintained control and reaped huge profits by terrorizing the populace and making an example of any who dared rocked their boat. Jesus, particularly in Mark’s Gospel, speaks truth to power in a clear and articulate voice, radical in its message of love. He tells us that we must, ultimately, bind up the instruments of power and oppression, in whatever form they take, with love and hope alone. But make no mistake: love as Jesus proclaimed it was not sentimental and soft, but powerful and strong. Jesus’ love can unmask and bind up the powers of the world and transform the darkness into overwhelming light.
Mark’s Gospel is set against a socio-political world fraught with drama. Herod the corrupt is King, a Roman governor wields power in Rome’s name, and those who would rebel against it could find themselves crucified. The Romans used crucifixion as the ultimate deterrent, lest anyone get the idea that they could challenge the power of the State. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were not enamored with Rome but they went along as it helped to stabilize and grow their own power. Jesus stands accused of healing in the name of the chief of demons, Beelzebub or, for our purposes, Satan. Jesus’ healing and message is so radical and counter-cultural that his own family seems to think that he may have lost his messianic compass and his mind. They have come “to restrain him” which may only mean to talk some sense into him. Or maybe the plan to hogtie him and carry him home to Nazareth until he starts talking sensibly. And, they have a point.
Jesus teaches to love your enemy as yourself; to pray for those who persecute you; blessed are those who suffer for righteousness sake for their’ s is the kingdom of heaven. And he threatens the status quo as so many people flock to him that even his family cannot get close enough to talk to him; they have to “send for him.” Jesus’ message is counter to the world’s as he says the first shall be last and the last first. His death on a cross will place him in with people who are the worst of society. Jesus will turn the cross of shame into victory.
But he uses some logic against his enemies who claim he is casting out demons in the name of he evil one. He reminds them that a “house divided against itself cannot stand.’ He says him casting out demons is Satan’s name would be a little like Michael Jordan signing a contract with Nike and then selling Converse instead. It would not be in Nike’s best interest. Then, he makes the most important point, I think: before you can ransack and steal from the strong man (Satan), you first have to tie up the strong man. And this got me to thinking: what are the strong men of the world’s (or Satan’s) devising? Why is it necessary to tie them up and how do we do it?
The world is a complicated place, isn’t it? And, for many, many people all the time and for some of us, some of the time, the world seems to be on the edge of collapse. We rape and molest God’s creation every single day and each day it seems we move further away from using God’s earth as God intends. One billion people in the world live in severe poverty and another 2 billion are what the world considers poor. That is 1/3 of the world’s population living in some type of deprivation. Violence is a daily threat for millions of people in the world, from the Congo to Syria and Somalia, to the south side of Chicago and East Los Angeles. War trips merrily along. Addiction and abuse are a national epidemic. Social Security and Medicare are on very shaky financial footing. And there are people on our border who, if they cross the border, are in danger of being separated from their children. These are the strong men of the world, of our day. Rome and Roman authority and violence and the corrupt Herodian monarchy were the strong men of Jesus’ day. Apathy and fear were there, too. Jesus said we must bind up the strong man, the evil of Satan (injustice, corporate greed, racism, sexism, etc.) before you can move forward. But how?
Did anyone hear our Presiding Bishop preach at the royal wedding on May 19th? What did he preach about? Love, right?! He said that the powerful love of our savior Jesus Christ can transform the world. Love is the only way that we can triumph over the Goliaths of fear, violence, hatred, and aloofness. The strong man is very strong, tremendously powerful. But nothing is stronger than the love so powerful that it overturned death; the love of God for His creation is the most overwhelming force in the universe. God’s love creates, always builds up, and never destroys. The strong man’s weapons are sometimes compelling but we cannot stoop to using them. If we are to bind the strong man, our only weapon is the love of Jesus Christ and we must wield it not like a sword, but as a tool of proclamation and discipleship.
I know I have told you one story from the film, Paul, Apostle of Christ, but I am going to share with you another. Luke comes to visit Paul in prison (yes, the Luke from the Gospels). And the Christian community in Rome is going through the first of the great persecutions, this under Nero, who has most likely set fire to Rome himself and now blames the Christians for it. Christians are being burned alive, thrown to animals and gladiators in the Coliseum, and crucified along the streets of the city. A young boy, and beloved member of the Christian community, has been killed by Roman soldiers and the young men in the community want to go to arms and take revenge. As Luke tells the imprisoned Paul this, he tells the old man that the people want revenge.
“No,” says Paul.
“Why not?!” Screams Luke.
“Love is the only way,” Paul says firmly, but gently.
Luke nearly hisses, “This world doesn’t know anything about love!!”
Paul then says, “Love is the only way. A love that has suffered long; love that is kind; that is not proud; love that Is not easily angered; love that rejoices in truth; never delights in wrongdoing love that hopes and endures all things…that kind of love.”
Paul who had seen the full power and wrath of the Roman Empire and had answered the strong man with love and a hope born of understanding who Jesus was: the answer of a loving God to the power of the an often-merciless world. We may feel tied down by death and sin, overwhelmed by the images that we have seen. How can we believe and trust in the power of love when we have seen the ravages of war, torture, wanton treatment of the created world, garbage in the ocean, child soldiers or children left to die of hunger …?
How can we see the strong man’s power and believe anything else is possible? Because, quite simply, the force that created the universe came among us and loved us so much that He lived for us. God has the power to bind the strong man forever; but we must act with God. God has saved us but are we willing to live into that reality? Do we have the courage to answer, always, with the power of love, when it is so much easier to do something else?